The found footage VHS tape-based anthology horror franchise, since its beginning in 2012, has very much been an acquired taste. The first (and frankly best) film was a novel idea, one coated in the alluring grunge of video nasties, which in turn gave a number of new voices in horror a platform to play (or rather press Play) on. Since then more and more exciting creators of horror have jumped aboard the series but the later sequels have had a decidedly hit and miss effect. However Shudder exclusive V/H/S/94 not only sets the series back on track after the dreadful V/H/S: Viral and wildly uneven V/H/S/2 but it is the series’ best offering by far.
Jennifer Reeder’s core frame narrative ‘Holy Hell’, sees a SWAT team called to a ritualistic mass suicide scene at an abandoned building, and as they progress deeper into its blood splattered halls, they find themselves submerged in the horror. Slotted in-between this story are four shorts (and an advert !): Chloe Okuno’s ‘Storm Drain’, franchise regular Simon Barrett’s ‘The Empty Wake’, ‘Safe Haven’ (the acclaimed V/H/S/2 short) co-director/writer Timo Tjahjanto’s ‘The Subject’ and Ryan Prows’ ‘Terror’.
V/H/S/94 won’t win over found footage detesters but it is a sign that this franchise is not only back on track but on sterling form at that, as the hit rate of the shorts (or ‘segments’ if you prefer) has never been this successful or consistent. Sadly, despite an initially promising wraparound story by Reeder that evokes David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza’s Rec 2, ‘Holy Hell’ ultimately fails to reach a satisfying conclusion (a common problem in this franchise and anthology horror in general), but on a better note, the shorts themselves are all fantastic. In fact, rating this film on them alone, it has gotta be two mangled thumbs way up!
Each segment has an embrace of this film’s gritty ‘90s extreme video store rental section aesthetic, and all the stories have their own atmosphere, compelling concepts or just sheer and utter madness. Many are somewhat cult-centric but each spirals into its own perverse and outstandingly realised little world, harnessed from the melee of our own. Okuno’s ‘Storm Drain’, initially feeling like Carlo Ledesma’s The Tunnel by way of Joshua Zeman’s Cropsy, becomes a surprising and gruesome creature feature. While Barrett’s ‘The Empty Wake’ feels very Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity at points but is a rather subtle take on some ideas that feel familiar but are delivered with distinctive style and tension.
Then there’s Tjahjanto’s ‘The Subject’ which is an unhinged body horror joyride, that feels like a brutal viscera-coated blend of Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry and Richard Raaphorst’s Frankenstein’s Army, peppered with soul beneath the tech n’ flesh survival horror. And finally there is Ryan Prows’ ‘Terror’, a slower building but effective Waco reflecting horror tale about homegrown right wing extremism and human idiocy, that does something particularly different with a familiar genre, akin to Derek Lee and Clif Prowse’s Afflicted.
Not only is the consistency at an all time high but so is the construction. The make up and effects work (and creature designs) are especially outstanding and without doubt the series’ best (as well as impressively practical heavy). While the format itself has never been so embraced aesthetically, as this all genuinely feels like work from some depraved corners of the ‘90s, collected from an array of tapes found in some madman’s basement labelled ‘sick sh*t”.
The Best V/H/S yet. Hail Raatma.
V/H/S/94 is streaming now exclusively on Shudder.